Justice for Breakfast: Reflections on the complexities of policing in South Africa today

Justice for Breakfast Roundtable discussions have been running since late 2012

Justice for Breakfast Roundtable discussions have been running since late 2012

On 27 November 2014, the Wits Justice Project, together with Wits Public Safety Programme, hosted their regular Justice for Breakfast Roundtable discussion, where practitioners, academics, and activists, come together to talk about a particular issue at hand and deliberated on possible solutions.

The discussion focused on the broader value of the findings of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry for policing in South Africa. The discussion also highlighted parallels between the Commission’s findings and the research conducted by the Wits Justice Project into police/community relations in Sophiatown.

Lead discussant Amanda Dissel, Secretary to the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry and delegate in South Africa for the Geneva-based Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), got the ball rolling by giving a background of the commission.

Amanda Dissel

Amanda Dissel presenting findings of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry


The Khayelitsha Commission was established on 24 August 2012 by the Premier of the Western Cape to investigate allegations of inefficiency of the South African Police Service (SAPS) stationed at three Khayelitsha police stations (Khayelitsha Site B, Lingelethu West and Harare). The Commission was also asked to look into the breakdown of the relationship between the Khayelitsha community and members of the SAPS working in the area.

The Commission zoomed in on the day-to-day technical complexities of policing and how they affect the community.

Some key Issues/Findings:

  1. There was an evident breakdown of effective policing
  2. Lack of allocation of sufficient human resources. The Commission found out that the ratio of police officer to community members was 111:100K
  3. There was an absence of strategy on how members of the SAPS should be policing at informal settlements. There was no on-going relationship between the police and informal settlement dwellers, resulting in negative association
  4. Detective Services:  Extremely low conviction rate when it comes to serious crimes.

Poor investigation

Very high workload: 10 new detectives have been reallocated to Khayelitsha, but they had to be taken from another police station.

Huge backlogs

Lack of crime intelligence

  1. Relations and role of the community: Community Policing Forums (CPF) was functioning poorly due to lack of resources and political contestation within the community.

The Commission came up with 20 recommendations, which can be read on the final report.

Questions and Comment emanating from the floor

  1. Public bystanders: what does it mean to be a bystander in South African context and what effect does it have to be continuously exposed to crime and violence? Are we not creating a country of traumatized citizens?
  2. Would a Commission appointed by the ANC come up with the same or similar findings?
  3. Who benefits from the instability of Khayelitsha?
  4. Should we be allocating resources into strengthening the police or the community?
  5. Community-based approaches to policing have a potential, but there is a lack of data to measure their effectiveness.
  6. Money is at the core of everything. People can easily evade being punished for breaking the law through bribery. If you have money, you can buy ‘justice’.
  7. The aim is not to put people in prison. It’s about giving regular folks the dignity, enshrined in the constitution, to feel safe at their homes and surroundings.

Both the Wits Justice Project’s investigation of Sophiatown and the Khayelitsha Commission revealed that there is a breakdown in the relationship between the police and the community they serve. There is loss of trust in the police’s ability to perform their job effectively. It is clear from the discussion that policing is a multifaceted issue that needs meaningful engagement from all stakeholders involved.


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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